All-Season Psalms

(NEWS FLASH: Mrs. Joy Grotenhuis, daughter-in-law of the late Dale Grotenhuis, has kindly offered her services to us in regard to her father-in-law’s extensive musical works.  View this comment on a previous blog post for details!)

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been making a lot of forays into the distant past of our congregation here in West Sayville.  What sparked my interest was a little black notebook on one of the bottom shelves in our library.  It contained the minutes of every meeting of the Young People’s Society (think youth group) from 1916 to 1918.  Its preservation seems almost miraculous; our church has had a functioning youth group since 1906, but so far I have not discovered any of its other minute books.

During the process of digitizing the minutes from this notebook, I also noticed that the Society sang several songs throughout the course of each meeting, and every selection was meticulously noted.  I decided to examine their musical practices further; below is an explanation I’ve compiled for our congregation’s benefit.

In 1912, the United Presbyterian Board of Publication produced The Psalter, a collection of 413 settings of the 150 inspired Scriptural Psalms.  This songbook was approved for use in the Christian Reformed Church in 1914; the Psalter Hymnal as we know it did not appear until 1934.  Thus, the Young People’s Society from 1916 to 1918 would in all likelihood have sung from the 1912 United Presbyterian Psalter, and to this effect Clara Verbeke records in the very first minutes that “the meeting opened by singing Nos. 56 and 7 from the Psalter.”

We can obtain some significant gleanings from the accompanying table.  First, it should be noted that the young people of a century ago sang many of the very same selections we utilize in today’s worship; sixty-four of these seventy-eight songs appear in some form in our current Psalter Hymnal.  Yet some of the Society’s selections may strike us as odd.  “Wherefore do the nations rage,” “Judge me, God of my salvation,” “Jehovah, to my prayer give ear,” “Save me, O God, because the floods,” “Though troubles great o’ershadow me,” “I thought upon the days of old,” “Lord, the God of my salvation,” “Regard my grief and rescue me,” “From the depths do I invoke thee,” “By Babel’s streams we sat and wept”—why would these psalms, each so heavy with sorrowful lamentation, be sung in a youth gathering?  To answer this question we must remember the times in which these young people lived.  A war was in their midst; their own fathers, friends, and brothers were departing in a steady stream to serve their country overseas.  Further, four parents of Society members died during the span of these Minutes.  In a way that might seem foreign to us, the young people of this narrative could sing the laments of Scripture from the depths of their hearts.

What is more important, however, is the young people’s commitment to learning and singing the psalms.  Although they had their familiar favorites (the two most popular being numbers 254, “O come before the Lord, our King,” and 381, “With grateful heart my thanks I bring”), but their repertoire was both sizable and broad.  O for that same level of musical zeal today!

The table below correlates each 1912 Psalter selection with its matching psalm, its first line, and the number of times it was sung throughout the course of these Minutes.

No. Psalm First line Frequency
1 Ps 1 That man is blest who, fearing God 1
2 Ps 1 Blest is he who loves God’s precepts 1
3 Ps 2 Wherefore do the nations rage 2
7 Ps 4 On the good and faithful 18
10 Ps 5 In the fullness of Thy grace 4
28 Ps 16 When in the night I meditate 3
55 Ps 23 The Lord my Shepherd holds me 10
56 Ps 23 My Shepherd is the Lord Who knows my needs 2
57 Ps 24 The earth and the fulness with which it is stored 2
60 Ps 25 To Thee I lift my soul 3
64 Ps 25 Lord, I lift my soul to Thee 1
67 Ps 25 Lord, to me Thy ways make known 1
81 Ps 31 How great the goodness kept in store 16
82 Ps 31 Defend me, Lord, from shame 4
110 Ps 40 Thy tender mercies, O my Lord 14
112 Ps 40 Before Thy people I confess 2
120 Ps 43 Judge me, God of my salvation 14
126 Ps 46 God is our refuge and our strength 1
140 Ps 51 God be merciful to me 1
142 Ps 51 God be merciful to me 10
148 Ps 55 Jehovah, to my prayer give ear 1
162 Ps 62 My soul in silence waits for God 2
170 Ps 65 Praise waits for Thee in Zion 5
171 Ps 65 Thy might sets fast the mountains 2
176 Ps 67 O God, to us show mercy 11
183 Ps 68 O Lord, Thou hast ascended 1
184 Ps 69 Save me, O God, because the floods 1
187 Ps 69 Thy loving-kindness, Lord, is good and free 1
191 Ps 71 Though troubles great o’ershadow me 8
200 Ps 72 Christ shall have dominion 6
201 Ps 73 God loveth the righteous, His goodness is sure 2
202 Ps 73 In doubt and temptation I rest, Lord, in Thee 8
203 Ps 73 In sweet communion, Lord, with Thee 1
212 Ps 77 I thought upon the days of old 12
217 Ps 79 Remember not, O God 1
220 Ps 80 Great Shepherd Who leadest Thy people in love 4
221 Ps 80 Great Shepherd Who leadest Thy people in love 6
225 Ps 84 How dear to me, O Lord of Hosts 1
227 Ps 84 O Lord of Hosts, how lovely 1
237 Ps 87 Zion, founded on the mountains 7
239 Ps 87 Zion, on the holy hills 1
240 Ps 88 Lord, the God of my salvation 5
245 Ps 90 Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place 16
254 Ps 95 O come before the Lord, our King 19
255 Ps 95 Now with joyful exultation 10
261 Ps 98 Sing a new song to Jehovah 1
263 Ps 98 Unto God our Saviour 1
264 Ps 98 Come, let us sing before the Lord 2
265 Ps 99 Jehovah reigns in majesty 2
266 Ps 99 God is King forever: let the nations tremble 1
268 Ps 100 All people that on earth do dwell 1
269 Ps 100 All people that dwell on the earth 1
277 Ps 103 O praise and bless the Lord, my soul 1
280 Ps 103 O my soul, bless thou Jehovah 3
285 Ps 104 My soul, bless the Lord! the Lord is most great 1
304 Ps 111 O give the Lord whole-hearted praise 1
306 Ps 113 Praise God, ye servants of the Lord 10
310 Ps 116 I love the Lord, for my request 1
335 Ps 119 Deceit and falsehood I abhor 1
340 Ps 119 Regard my grief and rescue me 11
344 Ps 121 I to the hills will lift my eyes 1
345 Ps 121 To the hills I lift my eyes 9
346 Ps 121 To the hills I lift my eyes 2
351 Ps 123 To Thee, O Lord, I lift my eyes 1
357 Ps 126 When Zion in her low estate 1
363 Ps 130 From the depths do I invoke Thee 8
368 Ps 132 Arise, O Lord, our God, arise 1
371 Ps 133 Behold, how pleasant and how good 3
379 Ps 137 By Babel’s streams we sat and wept 1
381 Ps 138 With grateful heart my thanks I bring 19
382 Ps 139 Lord, Thou hast searched me, and dost know 6
399 Ps 145 My God, I will extol Thee 1
401 Ps 146 Praise ye the Lord, His praise proclaim 1
403 Ps 147 Praise ye the Lord, for it is good 8
404 Ps 148 Praise ye, praise ye the Lord 1
408 Ps 149 Ye who His temple throng 2
413 Ps 150 Hallelujah! Hallelujah! 6


I won’t wax eloquent on some contemporary applications of my discoveries about the songs of the Young People’s Society, but I will ask two pointed questions that arise in my mind as a result of this study.  First, do we work to familiarize ourselves with the psalms and hymns of worship, or do we confine them to the Sunday morning service as an otherwise irrelevant part of our lives?  Second, when we, like these young people, are confronted by toil, hardship, and sorrow, do we turn to God by means of the psalms for comfort and relief?  If our answer is negative to either of these questions, perhaps it’s time for a perspective adjustment.  We might learn a lot from the example of yesteryear’s youth.


1 Response to “All-Season Psalms”

  1. 1 Reita Julien September 12, 2012 at 9:37 am

    It seems to me the way the news has been lately, people would more and more want to be singing these Psalms.. The times are more modern but the “war-ish” activities are similar! “Wherefore do the nations rage..”, “Save me, O God, because the floods…”, “Though troubles great o’er shadow me…” Such comfort we should get from singing these Psalms!!!

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